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MODERNISM: 1900-1950 “Things fall apart, The center cannot hold.” - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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MODERNISM: 1900-1950 “Things fall apart, The center cannot hold.”. The Excited Early Modernists.

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“Things fall apart,

The center cannot hold.”

The excited early modernists
The Excited Early Modernists

  • continue to react to dehumanizing trends evident in the modern world: world that seems to be meaningless, isolation and alienation in the midst of urban crowds, the standardization of work, and conformity

  • Stressed INNOVATION: if the world was going to be in upheaval, they would recreate that in their work

  • the rise of “-isms”: Imagism, Surrealism, Futurism, Cubism, Dadaism, etc.

  • absurdity in art: strong images, unusual symbols, shock tactics => emotional response!

  • free verse: poets abandon traditional stanza form and meter for more natural poetry

  • new interest in psychological theories (Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung): dreams and subconscious desires; the self/mind is a place of conflict

  • Stream-of-consciousness: narrative technique that attempts to depict the leaps and associations of the human mind

  • shift from third person narrators of the Victorian era to first person narrators (no longer confident, no longer can be certain of the truth, all knowledge is filtered through humans)


  • Poetry that focused on precise imagery and clear, sharp language

  • Example:

    A Lover by Amy Lowell

    If I could catch the green lantern of the firefly I could see to write you a letter.


  • Attempts to express the workings of the subconscious and is characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.

  • Salvador Dali

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst

Salvador Dalí. The Persistence of Memory.


  • objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context

  • Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne


  • Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition.

Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany,

Disillusionment and the lost generation
Disillusionment and “The Lost Generation”

  • Devastation of World War I

    • Known as the “Great War:” thought that another war on that scale would never be possible – wrongo!

  • Disillusioned:

    • By use of science and technology creating death (gas/airplanes)

    • Vast sense of meaninglessness (no progress with death!)

    • Sense of anonymity (too many soldiers in too many trenches)

  • Many writers turn bitter and cynical

    • “The Lost Generation”

  • The later modernists
    The Later Modernists

    • 1930’s and 1940’s: the growth of fascism (Mussolini & Hitler) prompted many writers to focus on social and political concerns. (W. H. Auden , Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, and George Orwell)

    • Aspects of Modernism became increasingly accepted as they became more familiar, and mere novelty played a less important role in literature than before. Free verse, for example, remained popular, but some poets were equally at home with more traditional forms. In fiction, the use of stream-of-consciousness techniques became more widespread and less obscure.

    Overall literary techniques
    Overall Literary Techniques

    • Sense of alienation, futility, loss and despair

    • Multiple ways to view the world: no clear “right” or “wrong”

    • But they are searching for meaning and truth: see the world as chaotic but hope to find meaning by seeing the world differently!

    • Rejection of traditional values and assumptions

    • Elevation of the individual

    • First person narration

    • Emphasis on introspection/depth of human mind/psychology

    • Stream of consciousness

    • Irony: not as technique, more as an attitude